Putting Up The Tree

Also, since we’re talking about trees, my wife needs more lights.

10:03 A.M.—My wife is putting up our Christmas tree. It’s a pencil thin artificial tree we bought when we first got married sixteen years ago. It is filled with memories of yuletide warmth, love, joy, and possibly the devil.

I say this because I am trying to fix the thing so it will at least stand upright. But it won’t. This tree is an outdated antique that can’t stand upright without its medication. Every time I get it in place, the red-and-green Christmas-tree stand—the worst invention of the twentieth century—malfunctions and the tree falls over.

Also, since we’re talking about trees, my wife needs more lights. If there are any young married men reading this, wondering what marriage is like, I can help.

Do you remember that famous scene from “Jaws?” Right after the shark has shown its awesome and frightening head, Roy Scheider takes a step backward and tells the captain, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

It’s sort of like that. Only in this particular case, you are Roy Scheider, and your wife is the man-eating shark. Or at least, she will be if her Christmas tree sucks this year.

“We’re gonna need more lights,” you say, taking a step backward toward the door.

This is basically what it means to be in a committed relationship with a woman.

The main issue with these strands of lights is that they are junk and have a lifespan of forty minutes before burning out.

Even worse, news reports are constantly telling us how these lights are unsafe, and how every year they cause electrical house fires. Many families have experienced great losses because of these crummy lights and are left devastated, out in the cold, with no possessions, having no choice but to send Dad back to the store to buy more white lights.

Which is what my wife is asking me to do right now. And believe me, I fully intend to buy more lights. Just as soon as I can get this stupid, godforsaken, Satanic tree to stand upright.

12:11 P.M.—The store is packed because it is a few days before Thanksgiving, and this is Florida. Everyone in the U.S. comes to Florida for Thanksgiving. It’s the natural order of the world. When Florida was admitted as a state in 1845, President John Tyler deemed the state as:

“A place where everyone’s grandkids shall visit for Thanksgiving without being required to use turn signals.”

The store is a complete nuthouse. There are out-of-towners everywhere clogging the aisles, pushing buggies that contain enough food to feed unincorporated townships. In one shopping cart I count nine turkeys.


When I get to the Christmas decor aisle things are out of control. I discover that the store has run out of lights. Which, truthfully, makes me relieved.

I’m thinking, “Phew! At least this means I don’t have to stand in those long lines.”

So I am on my way out the door, whistling, twirling my keys on my finger, when I get a text message from my wife. Her verbatim message reads:

“Please get celery, garlic, dog food, and one extension cord. LOL.”


1:32 P.M.—I am standing in a long single-file line stretching clear back to Alaska and I can see the Chukchi Sea over the horizon. I am cold. The line is not moving. Because in this entire store there are only two cashiers on duty, both compete to see who can move slowest.

Whenever one cashier begins moving slower than the other, the other reacts by using her blinking checkout-lane light. This is international code for, “price check.”

Price checks can only be done by qualified store employees who shuffle instead of walk, and suffer from moderate to severe depression. But hey, price checking is evidently a very hard job because these checks can sometimes take about as long as the Protestant Reformation.

Maybe this is why the other 11,927 Walmart shoppers are using the self-checkout lanes. I hate self-checkouts. Mankind was doing great until we invented self-service banking and self-checkout lanes in the supermarket. As a result, society is a mess.

Which only leads me to ask what’s next. Am I to be expected to cook my own T-bone steak at Waffle House? Should I do my own root canals, cut my own hair, and physically walk to the refrigerator to get my own beer?

2:29 P.M.—I decided to abandon the cashier line and use the self-checkout lane.

I scan one item and there is a problem with the computer. I hear a loud government-style beeping and a computerized female voice says in a German accent, “Stop! Assistance needed, assistance needed…”

I’m looking around for assistance, but there is none. Most of the store employees are out back having knife fights over who has to do the next price check.

So I end up standing around like a stump for (this is an actual number) 182 minutes.

4:53 P.M.—A teenage employee arrives to offer assistance. The kid discovers that there is no barcode on my celery.

“Price check on celery,” he says.

5:10 P.M.—Finally the employee returns, wiping lobster bisque from his chin with a napkin, holding the correct celery. I pay my bill. I take my receipt. I let out a sigh of relief because it is over. I am home free.

My phone vibrates. Another text message from my wife. It reads:

“B4 U leave the store, plz buy a new Christmas tree. Ours just fell down. Thx. LOL.”

We’re gonna need more lights.


  1. Karen - November 27, 2019 8:53 am

    You are a funny man, Sean. It’s funny because it is true. Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Judy - November 27, 2019 10:50 am

    Someone tell me how the lights manage to tangle when you put them away untangled? Screw up elves? ?? Oh Sean you make me laugh in the wee hours and I give thanks for you.

  3. Barbara Zuleski - November 27, 2019 12:31 pm

    I was in a rather bad mood, till I read your post and it turned my entire world around and filled it with the magic of yuletide Hope…. May your holiday season shine brightly.

  4. aucat76 - November 27, 2019 12:51 pm

    Standing around like a stump-LOL.

  5. Caleb Halstead - November 27, 2019 1:03 pm

    All true, but the rest of the story is that on any given day I will check myself out rather than stand in one of those endless, god-forsaken lines.

  6. Tricia - November 27, 2019 1:26 pm

    Sean you make my day! Everything you write about I can so relate!! Happy Thanksgiving!!! And my tree has duck tape holding it up!!😂

  7. Victor and Kathy Wyatt - November 27, 2019 1:39 pm


    Kathy and I pray you have a great Thanksgiving and Christmas. We enjoy your writing and appreciate you going back to school to improve your life.

    We met Jamie and you at Blue Lake Methodist Camp. Reading your article early each morning is a treat. Having a loving family is special. We have a large family and try to get together often. The memories make our time together special. We have retired and are busier than ever. We travel some, take friends and family to doctor appointments, see our kids and grandkids and rest for the next trip!

    We have much to be thankful for each day and are glad that you do too! Be safe and make more good memories!

  8. Edna B. - November 27, 2019 2:46 pm

    Oh yes, I know that tree. Ours was like that so this year I finally broke down and bought a new one. Now I have to go out and buy more lights and ornaments. Happy Thanksgiving Sean, hugs, Edna B.

  9. Linda Moon - November 27, 2019 2:48 pm

    Uprightness is not possible from a god-forsaken tree or human, especially with some SATAN thrown in. Professor Irwin Corey would be proud of your authoritative list of what’s next in this mess society. I’ll put up my Pencil Tree (really, that’s the official name of that tree) on the day after Thanksgiving. I hope mine goes better that your tree-putting! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

  10. Tim Peace - November 27, 2019 3:39 pm

    Only you could take the chaos in a store and make it funny. Believe me when I say it’s exactly like that here in KY as well! Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. Larry Kessler - November 27, 2019 3:52 pm

    When I get to the checkout, only two open, I begin to announce in a very loud, robotic voice, “All rmployees, please come to the checkout counter!” Again and again and again. It doesn’t help, but a lot of disgruntled shoppers get a good laugh out of it!!! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry, Merry Christmas!! Ho, ho, ho!!!

  12. Melissa Westberry - November 27, 2019 4:38 pm

    You kill me, Sean! Yesterday my daughter, mother- in- law and I were at that same store you were in, different city. Mass confusion and chaos were rampant! My MIL grabbed a cart outside because it stabilizes her when she walks (she’s 79 years young) . I told her I’d get one for myself, too. “No”, she said, “you can put your stuff in this one. I just need to push it”. Ok. Fine. We made it inside the store and the MIL decided she needed a ridey-cart. There were none free. One was in the corral because it didn’t work. My MIL told me to get a cart for myself because she needed hers to lean on. As I turned to get a cart, the last 3 were taken by incoming shoppers. No more carts inside the store! So back out to the parking lot I go to get a cart. Just as I entered the store again, my MIL is settling down into a ridey-cart that someone had left. And the cart my MIL was going to push sat there mocking me. Oh Sean- life is not fair!
    Happy Thanksgiving to your kith and kin!

    Melissa Westberry

  13. Susie, as well - November 27, 2019 6:31 pm

    Self checkouts are really not all that bad if you don’t get a whole cart full of stuff, do them enough and you get quite good at it. Plus, you can sack groceries just like you want them sacked, cold stuff together, delicate stuff (bread, chips, fruit, etc.) together. Some say they refuse to use self checkout … I don’t love it but I’ll never say I’ll never use one. Beats the heck out of endless checkout lines in Wal Mart.

  14. Nancy M - November 27, 2019 8:28 pm

    Every time I’ve tried to use the self checkout, something’s gone wrong and I had to go to “Customer Service”. Awful! Worse than the line for a human cashier! I don’t use self checkout any more.

  15. Frieda Borntrager - November 27, 2019 11:02 pm

    This is hilarious! It made my day!

  16. Carol - November 28, 2019 2:42 am

    Your a real sweetheart!! And I know Jamie loves the way you Handel these serious situations, at least to us it’s serious!
    I know you may not like it but your a doll and Handel it with class!!
    Cudos to you , now let me know next time your going to Walmart!! Thanks ❤️
    Love ya!

  17. Tommy - November 28, 2019 2:24 pm

    My Great Grandson loves to be held up so he can scan the items. Same 8 year old who takes command of MeeMee’s phone as soon as she gets there, then downloads so many games it kicks off apps she needs.

  18. Robert Chiles - December 1, 2019 1:21 am

    I would just as soon take a beating as go to Wal-Mart. They have 38 checkout lanes and two checkout people. You and Jamie out to go cut a tree.

  19. Mary Berryman - December 7, 2019 4:57 am

    Sean, you described the joys of Christmas decorating to a tee! Today as I was decorating my mantel everything was going way too smoothly. I checked the lighted garland and all the lights worked. The garland went onto the mantel easily without trying to fall off on one end or the other. The large lanterns with candles which I use on each end of the mantel didn’t try to fall off either. The best part was my 34 year old son helping me decorate, digging through the boxes, pulling out “memories” which had lain undisturbed for the almost 11years since my husband/his daddy died of cancer. I know something about how much a young man needs his daddy from a mother’s perspective.
    It was a special day.


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